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Games can be more than mere entertainment. In our column Alt+Home, this time, intermedia artist Kent Sheely explores the ways video games can be played against their creators' intentions.

If you've never played any of the Call of Duty series, there are two details you should know. First, these games are typical first-person shooters, which means you will likely mow down a few hundred enemies before the credits roll. Second, they are presented as highly cinematic experiences, in which a lot of combat and action is happening around you at all times, most of which is tertiary to your character’s goals and is present only as atmospheric context. You are meant to feel like just an ordinary soldier within the ranks of a larger force. However, because you are the protagonist of the story, you’re expected to be on the front lines doing a lot of the dirty work yourself if you're playing as intended.

Tangiers has been on my radar for a long, long time. Announced and Kickstarted in 2013, the stealth game inspired by the surreal and dark imagination of William S. Burroughs has had a few delays. I talked with Alex Harvex, Tangiers lead developer, about games and literature, Burroughs and the experience of mixing literature and video games.

Literature - at least "serious", high-brow literature - and games usually remain worlds apart. What inspired you to try and take William S Burroughs' (WSB) work as the starting point for Tangiers?

Quite simply and quite selfishly, I wanted to make a game that I'd want to play! When I entered into thinking of making Tangiers, there was a significant trend of indie games relying on introspective nostalgia. The appeal of Fez for example was completely lost on me, and I found that incredibly alienating.

Games can be more than mere entertainment. In our column Alt+Home, intermedia artist Kent Sheely explores the ways independent developers are challenging the status quo, creating brand new experiences, and making a difference in the world.

I don’t do a lot of driving. I’ve lived in New York City for the past six years, relying mostly on public transit, and haven’t spent a lot of time behind the wheel. However, I just finished moving all the way across the country to Los Angeles, a road trip that more than made up for that gap.

On long stretches of American highway I had a lot of time to reflect, and I thought quite a lot about games that simulate the experience of driving. There’s certainly no shortage of these, but most treat the vehicle and its occupant(s) as a single entity, as if the player were controlling an autonomous machine. In my own experience, it’s easy to focus my attention entirely on guiding a 7,500-pound vessel between the endless white lines, but simple actions like reaching for a strip of beef jerky or changing the radio make me acutely aware that in those moments I am effectively two entities.

A handful of games in recent years have explored this duality, challenging the player to consider both the vehicle and the driver within as individual elements.

When Eron asked me a while back if VGT would be willing to run a series of essays on the aesthetics, the design and infrastructure of MOBAs, I agreed blindly. And in a literal sense, too: Although I have been playing video games for a quarter of a century and nowadays even earn part of my rent writing about them, I was pitifully ignorant of a phenomenon that is not even just the future, but very much the present of video games.

As Eron writes in his introduction:

The broader problem in talking about video games in a nuanced way is massively amplified with MOBAs since [they] are tricky for both lay and academic audiences, especially since it can take literally hundreds of hours to learn to play these games with any amount of skill, let alone to explore their communities.

This hits home especially for those writing about games professionally: In the already hectic circle of news-previews-release-reviews-oblivion, there is simply no time for most journalists to spend that amount of time on a single game, period. (And to point out a fact most readers of games journalism might be unaware of: Most of the men and women writing about games who are lucky enough to be paid at all, are freelancers. That means they are paid for the text, and not for the time spent playing the game they report on. It's only the absolute minority of games journalists, usually those actually employed by the few remaining specialist outlets, print or online, for whom play time is paid work time. Let that sink in for a minute.) The title of this series is well chosen: It is a de-mystification that's going on here, all right, and a very welcome one at that.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs. This is the final part.

Watching ten people sit hidden behind computer monitors on a stage might sound like the very stuff that purgatory is built of, with a barrage of swirling laser lights and dubstep blasting only adding insult to injury. But a massive number of people have come to love watching esports, and by massive I mean top tournaments for Defense of the Ancients 2 (aka Dota2, by Valve Corporation) and League of Legends (aka LoL, by Riot Games) can draw tens of millions of viewers, which is on par with top traditional sporting events like the baseball World Series. Blizzard/Activision’s Heroes of the Storm (HotS) doesn’t draw quite as many viewers, but was only launched in the middle of 2015, and is backed by the company that has historically been a pioneer of esports via StarCraft.

Manifold Garden is a fascinating project. For Der Standard, I talked to its creator William Chyr; here's the in-depth interview in full.

Your background is quite special for a game developer, and you describe yourself as "working at the intersection of art and science". Is the medium of games a logical fit for that? Is it a detour?

The medium of games has definitely been fantastic for exploring the intersection of art and science.

In games, you have the power to create complete worlds from scratch. You can actually write the rules of physics in the world you're creating. Also, because games are interactive, they allow you to experiment with those rules, and to learn from that process.

There’s also the actual development of the game, which requires a solid understanding of design, art, and technology. So not only does the game itself bring together science and art, so does the actual process behind it.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs. This is part 7.

With the explosive rise of Valve’s Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA2), Riot’s League of Legends (LoL), and Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm (HotS), the mainstream media seems to be quite deeply perplexed by the claim that video games could be a sport. It is incredibly rare to be present in the earliest days of any cultural phenomena, but similar to seeing the supporting structure of a half-finished building. This primordial vantage point is immensely interesting because it provides a clear view of how culture is constructed both in fans and from the sporting organizations. In fact, getting to watch this process of a professional sport that is only a decade old (via StarCraft) trying to legitimize itself highlights the artifice and art of all sporting events. As esports are still uncharted territory, each game company has made distinct choices with their experiments in trying to promote, share, professionalize, and define their game as an esport.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs. This is part 6.

Last week’s Demystifying Mobas examined the ways that the resource gathering models of MOBAs highlight their differing ideas about balance and fairness. But to fully understand some of the curious complexities of why lightning fast mirco-games of precision and speed like last hitting, are not just prioritized, but even possible, it is critical to understand how MOBAs are a mutation from the Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre. Warcraft 3 (by Blizzard Entertainment), which is the fantasy flavored brethren of StarCraft (also Blizzard), is the source for the entire MOBA genre.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs.

In the previous editions of Demystifying Mobas I’ve broken down some of the basic elements such as the maps, characters, and history of the three major esports mobas, DotA2 (Valve Corporation), LoL (Riot Games), and HotS (Blizzard/Activision). Now that we’ve shaken the hypothetical box, looked at the game board, and examined the pieces, let’s set these games in motion.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs.

In today’s instalment of “Demystifying MOBAs” we’re going to move on from the characters and take a look at the maps and landscape of Valve’s Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA2), Riot’s League of Legends (LoL), and Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm (HotS). One interesting way that many MOBAs resemble traditional sports fields (and chess) is that they have a single standard map for all competitive play. LoL has added a couple of variant game types which each have distinct maps, but these aren’t used in professional play so the focus here will be on the core map.